It’s been a busy week in Milpitas.
In the space of two days, four City council members — Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli, Garry Barbadillo, Bob Nuñez and Anthony Phan — issued a public rebuke and a direct letter to Mayor Rich Tran, condemning him for his recent behavior and, in the letter, indicating a desire to force his resignation.
To understand what’s going on, one is best advised to examine newly released investigative documents regarding financial and intimidation misconduct on the part of former Milpitas City Manager Tom Williams. It is Mr. Williams’ accounts in a separate but related batch of documents that shed some unfortunate light on Mayor Tran.
Mayor Tran is suggested to have “more likely than not” subjected Williams to age-based comments, and to also have “engaged in conduct of a sexual nature” at a holiday party. The report cites no evidence of Mayor Tran’s misconduct, yet notes that Mr. Williams kept track of it in his personal notes.
Regarding the mayor’s alleged age-based comments, here are some examples mentioned by Williams in the report:
* Mayor Tran saw photos of a City staffer’s nieces and nephews, and commented that he didn’t know she had grandchildren.
* Mayor Tran commented to a manager, upon learning of his 28 years with the City, that he must be one of the City’s oldest employees.
* Mayor Tran introduced a department head at a City Council Meeting by saying, in part, “You old guys come up first.”
It’s worth noting here that in the past, Mr. Williams has entangled the City of Milpitas in lawsuits involving alleged ageism, harassment, and wrongful termination. Meanwhile, Mr. Williams has an alleged history of workplace bullying and intimidation, resulting in the departure of several capable city employees. He also has reportedly misappropriated public funds for the sake of paying his own legal fees.
Now, regarding the mayor’s alleged “conduct of a sexual nature”, it is also said to have “more likely than not” occurred, and taken place at a year-end party in December, 2016. There, Mayor Tran was said to have hugged a city department head, and also to have asked another employee if they had any single friends.
In their recent letter to Mayor Tran, the other City Council members said that Tran had “tarnished the city’s reputation and undermined public trust in elected officials.”
But I’m not so sure the Council members’ actions this past week are doing much good for the city’s reputation, either, much less our trust in our elected officials…
The Milpitas Beat was founded in a spirit of political neutrality. In the event that our City’s Mayor engages in proven misconduct of a serious nature, this publication will bring the news thereof to the public with duty and vigor.
Note that at no time was Mr. Tran alleged to have subjected any City employee to actual discrimination based upon his or her age, in terms of him taking a provable negative action due to how old a given staff member might be.
As to the more “sexual” recollections in the report: In the present age, the #metoo movement is driving a much-needed and long-overdue public dialogue regarding sexual misconduct which was for years cloaked in secrecy. Sexual harassment, abuse, and assault are rampant, and thankfully now being subject to the harsh light of day, in the interest of equality and justice. With this in mind, we must be cautious when citing hugs and jokes as “conduct of a sexual nature.” To do so is to risk fostering a cultural climate of panic and hysteria.
Mayor Rich Tran is by no means perfect. To be sure, his term started off with him reading an acceptance speech plagiarized from a speech once presented by President Barack Obama. But it seems clear to me that any sober evaluation of the information in this recent investigative report would find neither scandal nor cause for alarm.
The Mayor made some banal remarks and jokes. I doubt that any person would like for his or her daily comments to be held under a microscope, for the truth is, people say things that are arguably or potentially offensive all the time. As such, it’s easy (and becoming easier in the Internet and social media age) to orchestrate hit jobs on people by using their own words against them. In an Election Year, such behavior is to be expected. Ironically, though, given the lightness of the allegations against Mayor Tran, it would also be easy to accuse the other Council members of bullying him.
See how this works? See how easy it is to interpret words and behavior without a mind toward their context or intentions?
But I am not accusing the Milpitas City Council of bullying its Mayor. Instead, I am hereby expressing the sincere hope that our City officials think twice before slinging petty accusations. The City and its residents deserve better.
(Note: This article was edited after its initial publication to correct details relating to Tom Williams’ past conduct.)